27 July 2010

Good Times: Parlor Games

By Jennifer Linforth

In preparation to interview an escape artist, gambler, and magician for an upcoming book set in Victorian London, I stumbled into the world of Victorian parlor games. I needed one for the opening of this book and found "Poor Pussy." Strangely enough my magician's wife recalls playing a game called "Pat the Kitty" as a child.

Gathering together for parlor games was popular in the evenings in Victorian families. The central theme of many of them were games involving trying not to laugh. Poor Pussy was one of them. It involved one proper guest having to mill around on all fours amongst the seated company, meowing and stopping in front of someone who then had to say "poor pussy" without ever cracking a smile. Neither the cat or guest could smile. If one of them did the latter was the next cat.

I never recalled playing that as a child but I do remember this...

The Laughing Game where players sat in a circle and one says "ha." The next, "ha-ha" and so on until someone laughed in earnest.

Many games we know today stemmed from Victorian parlor games. Red-Light, Green Light, Simon Says, Charades and Musical Chairs. Hot Potato of today sounds very similar to the game of "Change" where an object was passed in a circle and directions shifted out of the blue.

Hunt the Thimble sounds like great fun. The mistress of the house would hide a tiny object in a room and guests would have to search for it. When they found it, they simply took their seat until one poor person was left still looking for the item.

Victorians seemed to enjoy embarrassing each other...

...or catching each other for that matter. There were many versions of Duck, Duck, Goose then called Wolf and the Lambs.

Memory games such as Grandmother's Trunk were wildly popular (hence the interview with my magician who is a master of Victorian memory games. His website is here: Dr. Wilson ) In this game a player would say "My grandmother has a trunk and in it is.... apples" or some such item beginning with the letter A. Around the room they would go, each guest having to build on this list with a new item with the following letter while remembering and reciting as well all the items before!

Way more fun than Wii? Oui?